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On Baking and Morals :: Nói Síríus Icelandic Chocolate

February 16, 2010

Until recently, I’d almost entirely given up on all things baking.  I can’t, for the love of God, use flour in any manner other than making pasta dough, whisking with butter in a sauté pan to make a Roux, or mixed with a few spices for dredging.  Add yeast or sugar in the mix, and I’m in trouble – or, in kitchen speak, I’m dans la merde.  I blame this on my mother.  My first experiences in the kitchen were cooking our Filipino family recipes, which weren’t really Recipes after all.  Measurements don’t exist – a tablespoon is what you use along with a fork to eat rice and baon.  Filipino cooking is largely about methods and seasoning to taste: a little of this, a dash of that.   That said, I’ve grown into a savory cook.  Give me duck fat, garlic, thyme, and salt, and I could whip up something that’ll make a fat kid blush.  But as it stands, I suck at the sweet stuff.

I’ve never enjoyed the process of baking – all of the measuring, creaming, double boiling, kneading, and measuring again.  The sensory experience of baking doesn’t really happen until whatever it is you’re making is in the oven.  That’s when you start to see and smell what you’re doing.  Cooking, for me, has to be a sensual experience from the start.  You can smell sliced onions the moment they hit the pan and, in real time, use all of your senses to witness its transformation from something tear-jerkingly pungent into something mellow and savory.  Baking, on the other hand, requires trust – and a lot of it.  You have to trust that the recipe that your friend in Chicago sent you is worth the two hours of love and labor.  But the sensory experience of baking, however delayed and short lived it may be, is pretty amazing.  The smell of bread or pastries baking is incredibly comforting and convincing to an untrusting bastard like myself.

So why put any effort into baking and pastries?  Baking is about showing love and providing comfort to those around you.  Introduce chocolate into the mix and, in some capacity, it’s about sex – but there will be other blog entries about that.  Baked goods bring you home and resurrect your morale (or moral, take your pick) no matter how uprooting and embarrassing  your previous night’s activities may have been.  They’re the reason Carrie Bradshaw is stuffing her maw with cupcakes in episode after episode after episode of Sex and The City.  I’d like to think my reasons for learning to bake are wholesome.  I’d like to show love for those around me.  And, after all, not everyone feels love from a thick slab of home cured bacon.

I made a pantry stocking trip to Whole Foods this afternoon.  I’m a sucker for finding the best ingredients for any project, so this was a blast.  The most crucial element in the quality of my first (and soon to be revealed) project is chocolate, of which there’s over fifty varieties to choose from.  At best, I have a dilettante’s knowledge of chocolates, cacao percentages, and tolerances.  But what to do with a plethora of colorful labels and flavors and claims?  Well, import logic from a completely irrelevant field of interest like, say…music.  Of course!  I found a very reasonably priced 7oz. pack of chocolate called Nói Síríus from Iceland.  Hey! One of my favorite bands, Sigur Rós is from Iceland.  And, Iceland seems far enough away for any american food processing company to get their greasy corporate paws on my chocolate.  So it’s gotta be good, right?  What’s more, the guy stocking the shelves at Whole Foods hooked me up with a couple free packages of Nói Síríus.  Thanks Shelf Stocking Dude!

Back home, I put on some Sigur Rós (Starálfur, off Agaetis Byrjum…duh!) and unwrapped a bar for a sample.  So far, this seems like good stuff.  The chocolate has a non-waxy feel between your fingers (some manufacturers use wax as a preservative) and the taste had that distinct “snap” that a good 70% dark chocolate should.  In the bain marie the Nói Síríus took well to making a ganache with a winey aroma.  For now, the ganache is setting up in the fridge – and that’s all I’ll say for now about that.

More to come…

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